“Live music is my religion, live music is my philosophy, live music is my ethos, live music is my beginning, it’s my middle, it’s my end.” — Phil Pirrone
NO DAZE OFF!
Phil Pirrone, Co-founder and Festival Director of Desert Daze
interview by Kylie Knight
photography by Angela Holtzen
When you meet Phil Pirrone, the first thing you’ll notice about him is his contagious spirit: pure energy. Phil is the kind of guy who doesn’t sit back idly and just talk ideas, but creates a plan and sees them to fruition. His insatiable creative drive and knack for problem-solving propels him along with other fellow artists and musicians to create Desert Daze — a fully immersive music festival set in the middle of Joshua Tree, CA., where they hope to break away from the traditional, homogenous festival mold.
The sixth installment of Desert Daze features a jaw-dropping line-up such as Iggy Pop, Ty Segall, Spiritualized, Budos Band, Sleep, and many more. Visual artists participating range from Coachella Valley based Cristopher Cichocki, who has created an evolving installation to take place over the course of the three-day festival, to LA-based artist Prescott McCarthy whose interactive artworks evoke a sense of youth and wonder.
Desert Daze 2017 will take place on October 12-15 at The Institute of Mentalphysics, known as the largest spiritual retreat center in the Western United States. The beautifully maintained landscape is a change of pace from other live music experiences.
I wanted to know more about the inspiration behind the festival’s unique concepts and recently sat down for a phone interview with Phil Pirrone, co-founder and festival director of Desert Daze.
Kylie Knight: Where does your passion for event coordinating come from and what inspired you to start doing that?
Phil Pirrone: Well, my whole passion for music started when I was very young, but that would be too long of a story. The practical starting point is when I was 13. I went to a punk rock show and got dropped on my ass on the concrete after crowd surfing and I just knew, I just knew it in that moment, I was like, “This is what I’m going to do.” It wasn’t like physically, I was going to play music, or I’m going to be in a band, or I’m going to put on a show, I had no idea. I was like, “This is what I’m going to do.” And I don’t know if I meant I was going to get dropped on my ass on concrete, but it’s kind of what putting shows on is like. It’s kind of like getting your ass dropped on concrete. I don’t know. There’s a weird connection.
Kylie: There’s just that power and energy behind the shows. That punk rock DIY community feeling.
Phil: That was the root of it. Then I played music, my wife played music, I’ve been touring for 20 years. Live music is my religion, live music is my philosophy, live music is my ethos, live music is my beginning, it’s my middle, it’s my end. And I think it’s the most important thing that we have on Earth. Maybe next to air, and food, and sex, and love. Music is the best thing that is just, it’s the most connecting, healing, wonderful thing that exists and I wanted to make my life about that. That’s what I knew at the age of 13.
Kylie: And when you believe so strongly in something, you get this feeling you want to share it with others, right?
Phil: That’s right. I’ve been touring a long time, I play music, and putting on events was a natural extension from that. I’ve always been the guy in the band that’s been the administrative guy. I’m always the guy that’s booking the shows, figuring out who else is going to play in the show, who’s doing the show poster, and when I was 13, there was no Facebook. There was no, “Who’s doing a Facebook event?” And “Who’s invited?” None of that existed. It was like, “Let’s make a flyer, at the school there’s a copy machine. We’ll make a flyer, we’ll make copies of the flyer, and we’ll pass flyers out.”
Kylie: You took it upon yourself.
Phil: I was the guy instigating that whole thing. Putting on the events and the festivals and stuff is a natural extension of all that.
Kylie: Is it hard for you? For your family life, your work life, then the music on top of that, your creative life.
Phil: It’s hard. It’s stressful. I’ve got no life. I have no life. I traded in any social life that I had, I traded in any leisure life that I had for work. I literally, I breathe, I sleep, I eat, I go to the bathroom, I love my wife, I love my baby, and I work. That is all I do. That is it. I don’t go places, I don’t go out to dinner. I don’t go to Disneyland, I don’t go for a ride, I don’t go to the beach, I don’t do anything. I work my fucking ass off 29 hours a day. Forget 24.
Kylie: You sacrifice yourself for the greater good.
Phil: I know the saying is like 8 days a week. No, I fit 14 days into every week. There are certain people in the world that make that kind of sacrifice, and it’s actually necessary. People that make those decisions and those sacrifices, if there were none of those, if everyone was just like, “No, I need a break.” Nothing would ever get done.
Kylie: I agree.
Phil: The flip side of that is, I have a lot of employees and staff, and I cannot expect the same from them that I expect from myself. Can’t. It’s inhumane. It’s not right. You have to be driven, but you have to be humane as well. You can’t drive people into the ground. They don’t work like that. It’s a balancing act.
I sacrifice my own social life and I happily do it. Happily, happily. That’s just the way I’m geared. I’m wired that way. I’ve been touring since I was 15 years old. Maybe that’s part of it. I’ve had a lot of fun. You know what I mean? 20 years of fun.
Kylie: Did you feel like it was time to give back to the youth and help support a younger generation of musicians?
Phil: In a way. I got crazy from 15 to 18. I did all the crazy things. And I got really bored. In my mid-20s, I was super bored. That’s when I started Moon Block. I just didn’t feel like partying had any purpose.
And I was ready for the party to have a purpose. You know what I mean?
Kylie: You have to switch over at some point.
Phil: For me, it’s funny. I put on a psychedelic music festival and I’m the most sober person you’ll ever meet during the festival. Like, I had a big coffee during Desert Daze in 2013. For me, it’s no longer a party. It hasn’t been a party in a long time. But that’s not to say it’s not fun, and it’s not life changing, and it’s not totally rewarding. For me I got bored with the partying. That was pretty conducive to getting to work. That was pretty motivating, the feeling of “Fuck, what are we doing? We’re just sitting around waiting for things to happen?” No. Let’s not do that.
Kylie: Do you think the festival is going to stay at the Institute of Mentalphysics?
Phil: That’s my hope. I want it to be at the Institute of Mentalphysics and Joshua Tree for the rest of my life.
Kylie: It’s incredible out there. I thought last year was beautiful.
Phil: It’s the best place to have a festival on the planet. I’ve been touring for 20 years, I’ve been to a lot of festivals all over the globe, and most of them, like 99% of all festivals are in a big field or a parking lot. This is the polar opposite of that. Energetically speaking, it’s the total opposite of that. Not just because it’s beautifully maintained property that’s not a field or parking lot, it goes deeper than that. The sight in Joshua Tree is energetically significant. There are 3 ancient aquifers that intersect underground at the property, and there is a palpable magnetic field. You can feel it. You were there last year. It felt good to be there, right?
Kylie: Especially when the moon was rising, it was. There were definitely a lot of energies connecting at once.
Phil: Yeah, there were. Desert Daze is a music and arts festival, but it’s not really a festival in the sense that you refer to all other music festivals as a festival. Let’s just remove festival from the equation real quick. When we say the words “music festival,” what we’re really referring to is a little bit closer to a refugee camp.
Kylie: That’s kind of true.
Phil: With Desert Daze, it’s more like a retreat in a lot of ways. That’s why Joshua Tree Retreat Center or The Institute of Mental Physics is the perfect place for it because it’s a place that intentionally, like people have been going to since the 20’s with the intention of furthering their own mind, body, and soul, and the world around them, and studying mental physics, and studying the teachings of Dingle Mei, and studying different practices that can expand your consciousness and expand your humanity and make the world around you a better place. In addition to the energy that is happening there because of the aquifers, because of the lay line, because of the geographical location of Joshua Tree, because of the naturally psychedelic and totally alien landscape that surrounds you. In combination with all that, you have this history, this compounded energy and experience and knowledge that has been shared and traded at that site by thousands upon thousands of travelers and knowers and seekers.
Kylie: That breaks it from other festivals.
Phil: Absolutely. I don’t know what parking lot you can say that about. I don’t know what field next to a baseball stadium you can say that about. No one has gone to Angel Stadium parking lot seeking the truth and the light, okay? No one. There’s something to be said for that, you know? We’re all taking up pilgrimage to this place. Desert Daze, we’ve been doing this for 6 years now, and what I’ve noticed is that since it started in such a pure place of like, “I’m in a band, you’re in a band, you have a PA speaker, you have a PA speaker, let’s get together, throw a block party.” That’s where it started, it wasn’t like, “I’m a restaurateur and you’re a venture capitalist. Music festivals make a lot of money. Oh, Chance The Rapper sells a lot of records, let’s book him.” Fuck all that. Fuck all that so much.
It started from this really pure place. So, I think that is running through the veins of the organism that is Desert Daze. And then it’s run by basically a family. My wife and I started the festival. Everybody in the crew is my best friend from childhood.
Kylie: I’ve personally watched it grow over the years and I feel as though you’ve always made it work and it’s continued to get bigger and bigger because of the positive energy you guys put forth to it.
Phil: I know, you’ve seen it. You’ve been with us since the get-go, along with E.J. Neumeyer and just everybody collaborating from that area. You can still feel that community, you can still feel…
Kylie: The DIY aspect of it.
Phil: Yeah, I mean even though it looks a little less than DIY, it still feels DIY. It still feels like a community effort, it still feels like a backyard barbecue that you are invited by the same person that person was invited by. Even though you don’t know each other, you feel safe around each other because, it’s a curated lineup, so naturally it’s a curated audience. It’s not a catch them all festival, with here’s a rap artist, here’s a pop artist, here’s hip hop, here’s alternative rock, here’s indie rock…
Kylie: You are not just filling in quotas.
Phil: Exactly. Those festivals will just get a hodgepodge of people, and maybe they don’t really like each other that much. It’s kind of a weird sort of thing. Like, “Fuck that guy.” You don’t get a lot of “Fuck that guy” at Desert Daze. That doesn’t happen.
We have a curated audience that are pretty like-minded even though they’re coming from all walks of life, we have every kind of color that exists in people. They’re creative, they’re artistic, they’re open minded, they’re loving, they’re humanitarians, they’re environmentally conscious, they’re socially conscious, they’re teachers, they’re musicians, they’re artists. It’s just cool to see those people meet each other. Anyway, the point I was driving at was that the festival site is different, but also the festival at its core is different. To call it a festival is like calling an orange a cheeseburger. You’re just like, “It’s not a cheeseburger. It’s an orange!”
Kylie: Did you ever imagine that it would get this big?
Phil: I don’t see it as that big.
Kylie: Some of the acts you’re getting are pretty big. Iggy Pop, for instance. Did you ever expect you’d be booking Iggy?
Phil: No, I never thought we’d have Iggy Pop. I never, never in a million years. We’d start talking about it a few years ago, and the first time we started talking about it I was like, “This is ridiculous. Let’s think of a realistic idea, guys.” But we kept talking about it. Last year, we asked, and they couldn’t do it for whatever reason. But last year was the first time we felt like we could even ask and be taken seriously. When we confirmed it this year, I was in disbelief. I thought that someone from their team was going to call me and go, “Dude, I’m so sorry. I made a mistake. I thought I was emailing somebody else.” I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Then we got the contract, then we got, “here’s Iggy’s approved photo and approved bio.” I was like, “This is really happening.”
Kylie: Wow. That’s amazing.
Phil: It was really unreal. I was in the UK when I got the news, and I was super duper sick. My little daughter, Mira, she’s 20 months old, and she was sick, and I went over to visit Julie and Mira and she got me sick. The first day I was there I was dying. I was like, “I’m sick I’m already sick. This is crazy.” I was super weak. I had been sweating all night and I was in bed and I couldn’t do shit. And I got the call that it happened, that we were confirmed, and I just yelped like a wounded animal. It was the only sound my weak little body could produce. But I was so excited that I couldn’t contain the excitement, I had to make a sound.
Kylie: Is there anything over the years that you’ve learned from doing the festival or things that you wish hadn’t happened in the past that you know not to do?
Phil: Totally. I don’t even know where to start. That is what doing a festival is. It’s a lesson in what not to do! It is damage control. Constant damage control. Nothing goes right, and that’s what you learn. I’m in six years deep, and I feel like that’s the lesson. Don’t expect anything to go right. It’s all going to go wrong. You just got to keep it together, keep it cool. Problem solve, man.
We have a running motto internally at the company called “No problems, only solutions.” It’s a quote from John Lennon. It rings very true in the festival industry. There are literally nothing but problems, but you’re only option is to view it as no problems, only solutions. Every single problem that’s forced upon you is an opportunity to find a solution. That’s all it is.
Kylie: That’s a good motto.
Phil: It’s not anything else, because if you view it as anything else, you will cry. You will break down, you will cry, and you will not be very happy. You will not be able to do it. The first couple of years, we banged our head against the wall a little bit like, “Everything’s going wrong.” Then you realize, that’s how it goes.
Kylie: It’s like “What am I doing this for?” You can’t waste time beating yourself up about it.
Phil: You have to skip the aggravation and you just go to solving the problem. That’s what we’ve learned.
Kylie: That’s good advice for everyone to use just in everyday life.
Phil: I found there to be a lot of parallels between life and putting on a festival. There’s a lot of really good lessons that we’ve extracted from putting on a festival.
Kylie: Who are you most looking forward to working with at the festival? And who are some visual artists that attendees can expect to see?
Phil: Well, Iggy Pop’s the most obvious answer. We’re all very excited about that. There are a lot of groups that I’m excited to see. There’s Li Daiguo, his name’s on the flyer under the Mystic Bazaar. He’s a throat singer from China. Anybody that’s camping gets a chance to see him in Mystic Bazaar. So if you’re thinking about camping, if you’re on the fence about camping, you should do it because there’s a lot of stuff in the campground that you cannot see if you’re not camping.
There’s a lot of artists, local artists. Prescott McCarthy and Mika, Maya Ginsberg and Cristopher Cichocki, and several others that are contributing to the wonderful art park and different installation areas around the festival. That’s another big focus for Desert Daze, all the art and the installations, we put a lot of budget into that. I don’t think a lot of rock festivals put any budget into their art installs. But we allocate real dollars to make sure that local and international artists have a little bit of a budget to work with, to build these things.
Kylie: I feel as though your art installations are curated specifically for the music.
Phil: That’s right. One really cool thing about Desert Daze is that we’re all musicians and artists actively and currently, we’re not like, “Oh, that’s what I did 20 years ago.” It’s what we’re doing right now. Our art director Mason, who plays in Juju with me, it’s really important to him and to me, we put an emphasis on the art. We treat the artists like the bands. At our festival, there’s one wristband. Whether you’re a band, or an installation artist, you all get the same one.
Kylie: That’s awesome.
Phil: If you’re an installation artist, you get catering. You get paid. You have the combinations. You’re not an after-thought, and we’re not sitting here thinking like, “Well you should be honored to have your art shown at this event and we shouldn’t pay anything.” That was an injustice that Mason and I picked out in the festival world. I know a lot of artists feel that way. I even had people from our staff from other festivals go like, “Why are we spending so much money on art? Shouldn’t they be excited to come build it?” Let me sit you down and I’ll explain something to you. I’m an artist. This is my festival. Probably going to look at it a little different from a non-artist perspective who’s only concerned with the bottom line. Look, I get it. I’m not living in a fantasy land. There’s a bottom line. We can’t spend more than we have, but we make sure to work an art budget into it.
The festival’s still growing, by no means are we made in the shade in any way. It’s still an experiment financially speaking… We taught ourselves how to do this stuff for the past six years. In the last two years, we partnered up with Space Land and Knitting Factory, who have brought a lot of experience and knowledge to the festival operation, but it’s a collaboration between their experience and ours and our ethos and theirs but it’s been a great team to be a part of, and we needed that. We needed a strategic partner that could help us grow the festival, make the festival more safe, make the festival more solid. It’s good and I’m very happy that we landed with them, but that’s a whole other conversation.
Kylie: Well, thanks so much Phil, and thanks so much for all the work you continue to put into this incredible festival. I’m looking forward to it.
Phil: Thank you so much for helping me spread word about the festival like you’ve been doing for the last six years; I really can’t thank you enough.
Kylie: Hopefully it’s something you continue to love to do, for the rest of your life.
Phil: Yes, and hopefully this year solidifies it. We just got to make sure everything goes according to plan.
WHAT: Desert Daze
WHEN: October 12-15, 2017
WHERE: The Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree, CA
59700 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252